Iranian officials have so far resisted calls for mandatory quarantine of areas with high infections of COVID-19. Instead, authorities have shut down schools and mosques and have asked residents to stay home. With the Nowruz (New Year) holiday approaching March 21 and most offices closed for two weeks, officials have asked Iranians to not travel during this time as they normally do.
At a teleconference for the anti-coronavirus national headquarters March 15, President Hassan Rouhani urged Iranians to stay home for the Nowruz holidays. One of the customs for Nowruz is visiting elderly relatives, who happen to be some of the most high-risk individuals for severe disease and death if infected with the novel coronavirus. Many others use the two-week break to travel to tourist sites across the country, particularly in the north or sometimes to the city of Mashhad. Rouhani said on March 16 that the Cabinet and others involved in stopping the spread of the coronavirus would continue to work through the holidays.
Rouhani also quashed rumors that individuals who are traveling while infected with the coronavirus could be fined, saying that returning home or to a hospital is sufficient. He asked officials in charge of shrines and mosques across the country to implement the orders of the anti-coronavirus national headquarters during the Nowruz holidays by keeping them closed.
Rouhani said the entrance for 11 provinces will be monitored by the Health and Interior ministries. Individuals with a fever will be asked to return home or taken to a hospital for treatment.
The rate of the spread of confirmed COVID-19 cases has shown no signs of slowing down. According to spokesperson for Iran’s Health Ministry Kianoush Jahanpour, there have been 1,053 new cases and 129 deaths in the last 24 hours. The total confirmed infected is now at 14,991 with 853 deaths. Jahanpour said 4,996 have recovered. The provinces that continue to have high infection rates are Tehran, Esfahan and Mazandaran.
Rouhani thanked Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei March 16 for establishing a medical base to fight the coronavirus, which will be headed Mohammad Hossein Bagheri, chief of staff of the armed forces. He also thanked the military commanders who have mobilized units and converted hospital beds for treating infected patients.
Hossein Salami, commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), spoke at a teleconference March 16 to IRGC commanders across the provinces. He said the IRGC has taken a “war posture” in their efforts to fight the spread of the coronavirus. Salami said the Baqiyatallah Military Hospital in Tehran has admitted the highest number of patients; he added that the IRGC and the Iranian navy have 24 hospitals, 12 mobile hospitals and 380 nationwide clinics to help stop the spread.
In a video message to viewers, Salami also pleaded with Iranians to stay home, telling them the only way to stop the spread of the coronavirus was to break the person-to-person interactions taking place.